Beavis & Butt-head Do America
Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Geffen 25002)
Have you ever wondered what the "Beavis & Butt-head" theme would sound like if arranged by Isaac Hayes? Well, wonder no more, because the very first selection on the soundtrack from "Beavis & Butt-head Do America" is something called -- what else? -- "Two Cool Guys," a hysterical, deadpan resetting of the TV theme in the style of Hayes' classic "Theme from Shaft." That alone would be worth the price of admission, but the album also includes such unexpected delights as the Red Hot Chili Peppers' remake of the Ohio Players' "Love Rollercoaster" (easily the best thing the band has done in years, and not just because there are enough backup singers to keep Anthony Keidis from having to carry the melody), Ozzy Osbourne's super-crunchy "Walk On Water" (produced, amazingly enough, by techno wizard Moby), and L.L. Cool J's inimitably suave take on the Rufus oldie "Ain't Nobody." Besides, what other album would find AC/DC segueing into Engelbert Humperdinck -- much less have Humperdinck singing something called "Lesbian Seagull"?
Trial By Fire (Columbia 67514)
Rock and roll these days has few pleasures as guilty as liking the Journey reunion album, "Trial By Fire." It isn't just that Journey, in its commercial prime, was guilty of some of the most bloated pop rock of the early '80s; making matters worse is the fact that this new album does little to update the band's sound. From the bombastic "One More" (imagine Rush on steroids) to the thumping overkill of "Castles Burning" (think Foreigner "4"), the songs seem almost to have emerged from some MTV time warp. Yet as ridiculous as the album often sounds, it's hard not to appreciate the sincerity with which the band delivers these vintage cliches. "When You Love a Woman" may be the sort of power-ballad that even Michael Bolton has long since stopped writing, but that doesn't diminish the appeal of Steve Perry's earnest, intense vocal, much less that of the song's soaring (if campy) chorus. Granted, a little of that goes a long way, meaning that the album's drippier slow songs -- such as "When I Think of You" or "Still She Cries" -- wear thin in a hurry. Still, it's incredible enough that a reunited Journey would have anything to offer at this point; expecting a full album's worth of solid songs is asking entirely too much. House of Music (Mercury 314 534 250)
Because Tony Toni Tone does retro-soul so well, it's tempting to assume that the old school sound is all they have. Sure "House of Music" opens with "Thinking of You," a drop-dead perfect re-creation of classic Al Green right down to the way D'wayne Wiggins' guitar evokes Teenie Hodges' work with the Hi house band, but the album is hardly a throwback -- not when it includes such thoroughly modern jams as "Let's Get Down" and "Tossin' and Turnin'." Instead, the Tonies serve as a sort of stylistic missing link, suggesting what would have happened had the soul styles of the '70s continued to evolve, instead of being tossed aside by the synth-driven sound of the '80s. So "Lovin' You" has the same harmonic complexity and slow-groove sizzle as a vintage Earth, Wind & Fire ballad, while "Don't Fall in Love" comes on like a revitalized Philly Soul single. That's not to say the Tonies don't have fun with those conventions; it's worth noting, for instance, that when "Don't Fall In Love" urges that men not fall for a woman "unless you're sure she's a woman," it's less than clear if the phrase is meant metaphorically or not. Still, the fact that the Tonies can have it both ways is part of the fun. Because if all you wanted were '70s-style grooves, why would you even bother with a contemporary group?
Unchained (American 43097)
That Johnny Cash went into the studio with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers to record tunes by Beck, Soundgarden and Spain may make "Unchained" seem like a generation-crossover novelty along the lines of Tony Bennett's "MTV Unplugged." But it doesn't sound like one. In fact, what it sounds like is the same sort of hard-edged country music Cash made when he first started recording for Sun Records. "Country Boy," for instance, hurtles along on the strength of a rockabilly arrangement not that different from the one that powered "Get Rhythm," while "Mean Eyed Cat" is as gone as anything those Sun cats cut in the '50s. Even better than the way he recaptures his rockabilly roots, though, is the stylistic breadth Cash brings to the album's gospel tunes. So Spain's "Spiritual" walks the line between Memphis blues and the high-lonesome sound of bluegrass, while the Carter Family's "Kneeling Drunkard's Plea" owes as much to the hoedown as to the revival tent. Of course, what alternarockers will most want to hear is how Cash reconfigures Soundgarden's "Rusty Cage" as folk rock (imagine Bob Dylan doing Bo Diddley, and you'll get an idea), but the best remade rocker on the album is Petty's "Southern Accents," which conveys a dignity and weariness only hinted at in the original. A truly awesome collaboration.
Pub Date: 11/14/96